Archive 2002

(The Early Years)

 

My home page was getting getting kind of porky at over 10,000 words, so I created this archive page to store the ancient history. When I started, I never thought I'd need one. :-)

Entries cover the year 2002 and are in reverse chronological order dating back to March 23, 2002.

Monday, December 30, 2002

Well, Christmas has come and gone and the New Year is right around the corner. Time to put the non-stop partying on hold for a minute and bring the web site up to date.

 

The cheesecake I made last week for the goodie table at work was just as good as I remembered it being. Fortunately, the table had a lot of goodies from other coworkers on it as well, so only about half the cheesecake was consumed. That meant I was able to take home the other half.

We were invited to my brother's for Christmas eve dinner, so it was an easy decision to volunteer to bring yet another cheesecake (even if it's not as seasonal a dessert as plum pudding, for example). My brother didn't have the same fond memories of my mother's cheesecake that I did, but like Proust's madeleines, the flavor brought back a flood of memories (or so I like to think). The centerpiece of this dinner was an enormous side of roast beef--it looked like there was half a cow in the roasting pan. I think my niece, Susan, has been watching the Food channel too much. She made expertly-decorated and delicious chocolate crepes for everyone. (I thought hers were tastier than the ones we had in France!)

My wife's sister came down from New York to spend Christmas with us and on Christmas day the three of us set out to visit her parents at their new home in York. Snow was in the forecast for the afternoon, but it was only raining when we left in the morning, so I wasn't concerned. But after only a half hour on the road, the rain turned to snow, and the temperature dropped as well. Soon we were traveling in blizzard conditions on unplowed highway, trying to follow the tire tracks of the cars in front of us. Not only was the road treacherous, but visibility was very poor. The windshield wipers were constantly caking with ice, the windshield kept fogging up, and the snow and fog made it very difficult to see very far ahead. Of course, we were traveling so slowly it didn't matter much. We considered turning around a number of times, but persevered and made the normally two-hour trip in about four hours. It was probably the worst driving conditions I've yet encountered. We never would have made the trip if we had thought it would be this bad, but we were glad we made it. We arrived in time to sit down to a delicious lamb dinner. It snowed most of Christmas day, so it was easy to decide to wait until Thursday to return home. On Christmas night, we relaxed and caught up on our TV watching with an old episode of Seinfeld, Monsters, Inc., and part of A Christmas Story, a movie I had only recently heard of, despite being an ardent Jean Shepherd fan.

Since we had a live Christmas tree this year, we didn't want to leave it inside any longer than necessary, so the day after Christmas we moved it downstairs to the much-cooler environment in our garage. Soon, it will join the other conifers in the yard.

 

Even though lobster roll season doesn't start until summer (for me, anyway), it's never too early to start looking for new places to try. I've started a list of destinations on my lobster roll page and added some places to visit for more recommendations.

Sunday, December 22, 2002

An exciting day of gutter-cleaning and other homeowner stuff. I made the World's Greatest Cheesecake tonight to take in to work tomorrow for our pre-Christmas food fest in the department. It turned out perfectly, and I can't wait to try it. I haven't tasted this particular cheesecake recipe in almost 20 years.

After midnight, I submitted a photo for the Streetphoto mailing list's Salon. The topic was "Yellow." I didn't really have a photograph that could seriously be a contender, but it was definitely yellow, so what the heck.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Some interesting AppleScript news: Apple's Script Editor has been ported to Cocoa and released to an unsuspecting world as a beta (v20). I can't say I was waiting breathlessly for this development, but I was grateful nonetheless. Any indication that Apple cares about AppleScript is more than welcome.

When I fired up the new Script Editor, I didn't know what to expect. Would it be an improvement over the original Script Editor, an application so lame and limited that Apple gave it the creator type "Toy Surprise"? (That's not to say that Script Editor is useless. But using Script Editor to write AppleScripts is like using SimpleText to create your web site--possible, but oh so painful.) Hmm. The icons looked strangely familiar. They seem borrowed from Apple's Project Builder, and the extremely brief release note implies that they aren't final, saying "note that all of the icons in this version are place holders and will be changed in the final version." Oh, goody. New icons coming!

To test the new Script Editor, I simply chose the command I most hated in the old Script Editor: "Open Dictionary." In the old version, Script Editor would scan all mounted drives to find every application--an operation that could take many minutes--before presenting you with a list to choose from. It was infuriatingly bad design. But the new Script Editor surprised me. Guess what? It works exactly the same way.

I don't really care what it does, because I don't really use it, but it just amazes me that anyone at Apple could choose this command even just once and think it works correctly. No one wants to open the dictionary of every application. Just give me a dialog box and I'll find the application I want to open. Criminy.

On the brighter side, Apple has incorporated some important improvements into Script Editor--and not just added new icons. See here for details.

I may whine about Script Editor, but it really is exciting to see it rewritten under Cocoa. Bravo.

 

Now that I have the new "Jaguar-enabled "version of Fink and it's working, I decided to go looking to see if the Korn shell were available through Fink. I'm pretty sure that the last time I looked, it wasn't, so at the time I got the Korn shell directly from AT&T. As a newbie, I just stuck it any old place and was able to get the Terminal application to use it just by entering the path to the Korn shell in the Terminal's preferences. It complained about a "locale error," however, and I never could quite figure out all the places that environment variables are set (not just in .profile, that's for sure), so I never got my $path straightened out. For the amount of work I do in the shell, Terminal's tcsh was just fine.

That was then. Now that the Korn shell is listed, I thought I'd let Fink take care of everything this time. Unlike the most popular packages, the Korn shell is listed only in the "unstable" tree; it hasn't been tested, and it's a little more work to install it. I found one reference to the Korn shell in the archives of the Fink Users mailing list that gave me confidence that it would work fine. To install an unstable package, you simply copy its .info file into the main Fink directory so Fink can "see" it and then run fink install ksh93. It compiled fine. Now I just have to get my paths straightened out.

 

Today was the shortest day of the year where I live. Even though it will still be dark for the next few months when I leave work, and the worst of winter still lies ahead, I feel like I've turned the corner on the journey toward Spring.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Vacation day! In trying to get back into Darwin, I removed and reinstalled Fink, which was recently updated to work with Jaguar. It did not go smoothly, however, because my Perl was broken. The full story is on my Perl page.

I added the World's Greatest Cheesecake recipe I mentioned recently to my food page.

Sunday, December 15, 2002

We bought our Christmas tree today: a live blue "Fat Albert" spruce from Carousel Gardens in Wrightstown. Although it's small, with that wet root ball it was all we could do to move it.

In cleaning up around the house I finally found the recipe for my mother's cheesecake, which is the best I have ever had. I haven't tasted it in almost twenty years and can't wait to see if it's as good as I remember it. In other food-related news, we received a tin of biscotti from our friends Lenny and Katie. They make the best biscotti I have ever had and the recipe is a closely-guarded secret.

Friday, December 13, 2002

One of the six 1.5-megawatt wind turbines located in Somerset, Pennsylvania, manufactured by Enron Wind--yes, that Enron. (Enron Wind has since been acquired by GE Power Systems.) The wind farm is operated by Exelon. That little hatch at the bottom is actually a full-size door--the tower is about 200 feet tall and each blade is almost 100 feet long.

Anne sent me a picture of a wind turbine featured on a holiday card we received from our energy company. (Part of our electricity comes from "alternative" sources. It's a little more expensive, although paradoxically our bills have been lower than last year. Go figure.) I am fascinated by these turbines and wind power in general, so I was inspired to dredge up one of my photos of the wind farm in Somerset, Pennsylvania. (You may remember Somerset as the town that was catapulted into the news back in July as the nation followed the plight and eventual rescue of nine miners trapped underground.) There is a much more picturesque wind farm about an hour away in Mill Run where the turbines stand tall against rolling farmland, but I don't have any pictures of it yet.

Yesterday I spent half the day enjoying the company holiday party. Instead of dancing, however, I was taking pictures and think I made quite a few mistakes. I'm almost afraid to look at the results.

At work, we have a decorating contest in which departments decorate their doors. It's designed to foster divisiveness and petty bickering among the workers; competition is fierce. (Just kidding.) Thanks to a tasteful design and outstanding production values, our department's door took the grand prize... which is, uh, nothing. Oh, wait. I think there's a plaque. Not to mention a full year of bragging rights. Even though I did nothing to contribute, I savored the sweet thrill of victory.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

In looking up a word online today, I stumbled upon a large and useful collection of reference books and literature--all free. The principal dictionary is the American Heritage, Fourth Edition, but there's a ton of other stuff as well. I won't be going back to Dictionary.com for a while. The address is Bartleby.com Great Books Online.

My friend Ward, who has been blind since birth, has been using computers for almost 20 years. He has been using e-mail for many years as well, but so far has never surfed the Web. He now has a tutor who is helping him understand how web sites work and how to cope with the myriad permutations of design we sighted people find so visually-compelling, yet which are so difficult for blind people to use. It's been a learning experience for me as I have been trying to answer his questions. I suggested he use my site to practice on because its design is so simple. Although I made sure my HTML and CSS validates, I never made any attempt to design in accessibility nor have anyone test it. Now that I will soon have such an audience (doubling my readership in the process!), I've been boning up on accessibility guidelines. For guidance, I'll be using the recommendations of Mark Pilgrim, who has devoted a web site--Dive Into Accessibility--to accessibility issues. I also ran across this Slashdot article by Joe Clark. I am also reading Patterns for Personal Web Sites which offers lots of good advice.

More site title candidates: "Signs of a Struggle," and "A Fine Mess."

At work, I'm wrestling with XML and XSLT. So far, they're winning. I'm. Pinned. Down. Can't. Breathe. Aaaaaack!!!

Monday, December 9, 2002

A really bad day for Septa. My first train, the R3 West Trenton express was a couple of minutes late and arrived at Market East station only about five minutes behind schedule. Nothing seemed wrong at first, except that the train lingered in the station a little longer than usual. Then an announcement told us of "switching problems" and informed us that the train would be delayed in departing. That lit a fire under the usually comatose passengers and suddenly there was a stampede for the exits, since many people could just walk the rest of the way to work. I got off the train as well and surveyed the situation. For one thing, Track 3 was listed as being temporarily out of service. This seemed to be the cause of the delay, since trains originally on Track 3 would now have to wait their turn for a crack at Track 4, yet trains were arriving on Track 3. Hmm.

I went upstairs to look at the monitors and saw that the next R5 train was scheduled to leave at 8:07. Realizing it was 8:07 at that very minute, I started to head back down to the platform, but noticed that the monitors for all the lines had "8:07" on them as well as a message stating that the system was temporarily unavailable. They sure picked a bad time for the system to go down. I can't see how this problem was related to the switching problem, but I doubt it could have been a coincidence either. Based on error dialog boxes I have seen on these monitors on other occasions, the monitor system is running some version of Windows NT, so that explains everything. Still I don't think I can blame all of Septa's problems on Microsoft, although it's tempting. Microsoft probably has enough money to fix it; Septa could just apply the latest Service Pack and all would be well. Unless it's a hardware problem.

Before heading back to the platform to wait for my train (which was about 40 minutes late), I noticed Septa had erected a Christmas tree in the holding pen. Sorry, I meant the passenger lounge. Notably, the lights on the tree were out. Perhaps the tree had overloaded Septa's circuits, or was Septa simply conserving power?

You know, I'd vote for anyone who's willing to sponsor legislation repealing Murphy's Law, I can tell you.

In other (better) news, I got my Leica M4 back from D.A.G. Camera Repair with a brand-new shutter. Now I should be good for another 30 years.

Friday, December 6, 2002

Yay! A vacation day! <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel>

Thursday, December 5, 2002

I spent my birthday by staying home from work, but not because I just didn't feel like going in. We were hit by the first snowstorm of the season, and at 9:00 AM the word went out that non-essential personnel did not need to report. Much as I hate to admit it, my position is non-essential, and, uh, it is my birthday and all, so I elected to stay home. With all the shoveling I'm doing, however, I would much rather it hadn't snowed at all. The forecast calls for ten inches, but I think there's that much on that ground already, and it's only 2:00 PM. It's a wintah wundahland!

Later that same day... <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel> <shovel>

Wednesday, December 4, 2002

I added a section to the photographic Technique page about using color correction filters to photograph indoor Christmas lights.

Anne has had DSL (with Verizon) for a while now, but I have continued using my dialup connection because I was too lazy to hook our computers together. We finally got a router and a 50-foot patch cord and hooked everything up tonight. Hoo-wheeee! I'm really surfin' now! I don't know why I waited so long...

Sunday, December 1, 2002

Anne and I went to a friend's house for a Hanukkah dinner of beef brisket, latkes (potato pancakes), Brussels sprouts, and pecan pie. For an appetizer, they served puff pastry filled with crabmeat and prosciutto (obviously, they don't keep kosher!) accompanied by champagne. Everything was simply delicious, and the latkes especially were so good I was thinking of converting! Scott explained the origin of Hanukkah and lit the menorah. The wonderful dinner reminded me of the old joke describing that a short summary of every Jewish holiday would be: "They tried to kill us, we won, now let's eat."

The pecan pie had a perfect crust, which I have been struggling to make [see November 27, 2002 below]. I have been doing two things (at least) wrong. One is over-mixing the shortening, and the other is using too much water. A couple of recommendations were to freeze the shortening and to use a food processor which makes the operation not only quicker, but more reliable. I feel I have enough information to make a better attempt next time.

Friday, November 29, 2002

I had a fantastic hamburger tonight at Cromwell's Tavern in Greenville, Delaware. I know, it was just a hamburger, but, yes, it was that good. It was "worth writing home about," so I added a review of Cromwell's to my restaurant page.

Thursday, November 28, 2002

I'm in the process of choosing some kind of name for my web site. So far, I've come up with the name "mere cat," which I like on several levels, not just because I love cats, but because it puns on O'Reilly's "Open Wire Service," Meerkat. The design is awful, of course, and I'm not even sure about the name, but I'll live with it for a while.

We started our Thanksgiving day by sleeping in and then enjoying a breakfast of the world's greatest waffles accompanied by steaming mugs of coffee. I added our waffle recipe to my Food section.

I added a poem I wrote back in 1989 to my Literature section, just so I could add "poet" to my resume. :-)

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

It's a winter wonderland! Almost. A large storm was forecast for last night, bringing rain and the first snow of the season to much of the Northeast. Well, I'm sure the storm was large, but it sure was weak. North of Philadelphia, we received only a dusting and temperatures remained above freezing. Quite a relief, I'm sure, for all those traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Despite having five days of vacation left, I am going in to work today, even though management has already advised everyone that they can leave at noon. It's silly perhaps, but I have an errand to run downtown anyway.

Tonight we will be making our contribution to the holiday feast, an apple pie. I'm in charge of crust construction, and I am planning to deviate a little from my usual routine. I have always used lard as all or part of the shortening to make my pie crusts. A couple weeks ago, we made a pie to take to a church gathering, and I used half lard and half unsalted butter. The crust was disappointing--not very flaky and even a little "doughy" tasting. I think my principal mistake was rolling it too thick. I should have known it wouldn't be good, because the dough was so easy to work with. If you can pick up the crust without it breaking, something's probably wrong! Anyway, I have resolved to use only butter (as most recipes suggest) and roll the crust as thin as I dare.

I would also like to take this opportunity to wish all my reader (that's right, I think there's only one) a safe and joyous Thanksgiving holiday!

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Tonight I worked up enough nerve to mix up a batch of patching plaster and finish a repair I had started over the weekend. When I had my house re-sided, there were a number of holes in the walls for air conditioners that I had covered over. On the inside walls, the contractor had framed in the holes and covered each with a piece of drywall. The problem is that the drywall patch was far from flush with the surrounding wall, so I had to use shims and a thinner piece of drywall to get a smooth finish. I taped the seams and then applied patching plaster to the edges to begin filling in the gaps. Although this was my first experience with plaster, it went pretty well, although the job will need several coats before it's finished.

I also attempted a more complicated repair of a hole where a clock outlet had been removed. I think clock outlets were popular fifty years, but I've never used mine. The hole was far to big (about 2 x 3) to fill with drywall compound or plaster. I cut a small piece of wood that I slipped through the opening and attached from the front with two screws. Now that there was support behind the hole, I could drop a small drywall plug into the hole and screw it fast.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

At work we were discussing some of the barriers to OS X migration in the "enterprise," and I realized that there is another important piece missing before we could even consider upgrading to OS X. A piece besides QuarkXPress, of course. That piece is Microsoft Outlook. I haven't heard any rumblings out of Microsoft that they are planning to port Outlook to OS X, although we have heard a rumor that Apple uses Outlook in Classic! Sheesh. We thought that it would make sense to give Entourage the capability to talk to Exchange Server rather than update Outlook, which has always lagged behind the Windows version. I for one wish Microsoft would kill Outlook outright, as I have wanted to do on any number of occasions. (I even volunteer to administer Extreme Unction.) Besides what I have already written about it, today it provided yet another entertaining annoyance. I created a task at the end of the day with a default reminder set for 10:00 AM. Cool. I closed the new Task, and was immediately reminded of the task! Hmm. Turns out the reminder was for 10:00 AM this morning. Since I created the reminder about six hours after the default reminder time, would it be too much to ask to set the reminder date to the following day?

I've been wrestling with a problem with Internet Explorer on the Mac. It seems to have some problems with some JScript code our IT department wrote. The code implements some "expanding outlines" by toggling the CSS display property between 'none' and 'block.' That works just fine, but when the outline is expanded, the hyperlinks don't work unless you open and close the outline a second time. As far as I can tell, there's nothing wrong with the code. I tried moving the code around, which made it work better, but then ran into other problems. If I ever figure this out and have some time, I'll post the details of the problem. I couldn't find anything about it on the Web.

Monday, November 11, 2002

I have a Dell PC that I no longer use, and I realized tonight that I could use its monitor on my PowerBook. I hooked up the monitor to the laptop while it was asleep and woke it up. The CRT stayed dark, and the display still appeared on the LCD screen, but the Displays preference pane correctly recognized the model number of the Dell monitor and now showed resolutions for both the CRT and the LCD. Cool. The resolutions for the CRT were all prefixed by the word "external." I selected one of the "external" resolutions, and the CRT came to life. Unfortunately only one of the monitors can be active at a time; the other one is simply dark. OS X offered resolutions as high as 1280 x 960, but the monitor reported that resolution was out of range, so I set it to the same resolution as the LCD: 1024 x 768.

All well and good, but as I have discovered in so many places with OS X, there are still some rough edges. For example, after connecting the external monitor, my desktop picture simply disappeared and was replaced with the default pattern. Yet when I opened the Desktop preference pane, my former desktop picture still shows up as being the current choice. There's no Apply button to refresh the display, however, but you can select one of the options for sizing the image to refresh it. Like a lot of things that annoy me about OS X, this is not a big bug; it's just a mysterious little annoyance. Why would changing displays or resolutions have anything to do with the desktop picture?

In the Displays preference pane, there is a checkbox to "Show displays in menu bar." Since OS X doesn't automatically switch to the external monitor when it's connected, this would indeed be a convenient option, saving me a trip to System Preferences to switch resolutions manually. But it doesn't work. Changing resolutions via the menu bar does nothing, so I still have to open Displays to switch to the external monitor. Sometimes it seems that everywhere I turn, there's some kind of half-baked, untested feature just waiting to annoy me. OS X may not be polished, but at least it's slow.

Saturday, November 9, 2002

It was unseasonably warm today, so Anne and I spent most of the day outside. I reglazed my first entire window after trying and failing to do it the week before. I was having a lot of trouble smoothing the putty with the putty knife. The trick is to draw the knife across the putty toward the munton, not draw it along. I also lubricated the putty knife by wiping it with a rag soaked in turpentine. The results don't look professional, but they're acceptable.

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

New PowerBooks were announced today. Ooooh. I've had my eye on an iBook ever since they were introduced. Now they're faster (800 MHz) and cheaper ($1299) than ever. They also sport 32 Mb of video RAM, which should meet the minimum requirement for Quartz Extreme. Very cool. I needed to take a cold shower to help quench the fever, so I headed over to Macintouch for a chilling splash of messages from owners complaining about hinge problems (among other things). Gee, I already have a PowerBook with hinge problems. Do I really need to spend $1299 for a new hinge problem? I think not.

Wow. I've updated this site four days in a row now. Am I blogging or what?

Tuesday, November 5, 2002

Election Day. Anne and I exercised our franchise right after work. I don't remember our polling place ever being crowded and tonight was no different. When we arrived around 7:00 PM, it had just started drizzling, and the polling place was neither empty nor crowded. We didn't have to wait at all to vote, but we weren't the only people there. I can't say the turnout was heavy, however. I was asked my name, naturally, but wasn't asked to produce any identification. I noticed when I signed in that there was a scan of my signature right there on the page for comparison. I couldn't have used it to help me forge a signature, however, because it was so small and smudgy. I don't know how they could use it for identification either. This was Anne's first time voting at this polling place, and she was surprised at the age of the voting machines. Truly antique, but charming in their honest simplicity.

We now have a Democratic governor, but all our local representatives are Republican. Hmm. Time to move? The Libertarian and Green parties only fielded gubernatorial candidates this election and each received approximately one percent of the vote. I had plenty of time to scan the choices while in the booth, but somehow I completely missed a referendum on funding volunteer fire and emergency services. It passed overwhelmingly, by the way. The results are posted at elections.buckscounty.org.

Monday, November 4, 2002

I've been having some problems with Ilford HP5+ recently. The negatives show what I consider to be excessive grain. Maybe this film has always been grainy and I'm just getting fussy, but I don't think so. I remember it being more fine-grained than Tri-X, which is one reason I switched.

I've been thinking a lot about the Zone system, and it's actually starting to make sense. The point of it all, I mean. Something else I've come to realize that's related to this is the old adage, "Expose for the shadows. Develop for the highlights." Uh, okay, but why? Well, for one thing, the longer film is developed, the more highlight density builds up. The densest areas build up the most, while the shadows change least of all. This makes me wonder how short a time I can use and still get full development of my shadows.

What prompts all this is noticing (and worrying) that I have to use filters of 2 or below or my shadows block up. In other words, my negatives have too great a density range (I think).

Sunday, November 3, 2002

Sunday was only partly cloudy and not too cold for this time of year, so we spent much of the day working outside. I repaired a downspout without too much trouble and was ready to call it a day when I suddenly remembered the other hundred other things I should be doing. Ah, the joys of home ownership.

One major job I had been putting off for years was prepping our wooden windows for painting. One window on the north side of the house was particularly bad, so that's where I started. It was a simple matter to remove the old putty, or what was left of it--the weather had already done much of the work for me. Replacing the putty wasn't so easy, however. I had a memory of watching someone on This Old House do the job. He, of course, made it look easy. I rolled the putty (Dap 33 glazing compound) between my hands and pressed it into the window. That was easy. Now all I had to do was make a smooth bevel. No matter what I did, however, the putty knife just pulled the putty away from the window. After giving up for the day, I went online looking for advice and found a recommendation to moisten the putty knife with Windex. I'll have to give it a try. That makes sense, since the problem is that the putty is sticking to the knife, so perhaps some sort of lubrication is in order. Maybe I should practice with peanut butter...

I bought some patching plaster to repair a small hole in the bedroom wall, which is the room we are currently restoring. That should be interesting. At least I can keep knocking out the old plaster if I don't get it right the first time. To end the day on an upbeat note, we finished stripping wallpaper in the bedroom tonight. Before starting, we took some pictures of ourselves up on the stepladder working on the ceiling.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Tonight I tried logging into my old CompuServe account to see if they really canceled it [see October 27, 2002 below]. They had, but instead of simply being denied access, I saw this message:

Thank you for signing on! Our records show that you once were a CompuServe member. Please call your local CompuServe Customer Service to re-activate your CompuServe account [xxxxx,xxxx] or use 'Sign-up' to set up a new account.
 
1-800-848-8990 (US and Canada)
 
All other countries, please contact your local sales/service office.
Thank you for using CompuServe!

How friendly and informative! Then they kicked me off:

Off at 21:24 EST 29-Oct-02
Connect time = 0:01

Sunday, October 27, 2002

This evening I made another attempt to cancel my CompuServe account [see October 24, 2002 below]. What had prevented me from canceling before was my inability to provide them with the last four digits of my credit card, which is what they use to verify your identity. Since the number of the card they are debiting each month isn't the right one, I dug out the statement from when I opened the account in October, 1994. The card number was indeed different (it changed once since then when the bank behind the card changed from Delaware Trust to MBNA). This had to be the number, since there was no other. When I provided the representative (triumphantly) with what I was sure must be the correct number, he claimed it wasn't! I got a little upset at this and pressed him for an answer as to why the number isn't the correct number in the first place. The answer is that the credit card field he is looking at can never be updated by anyone except me. The number in that field has nothing to do with billing at this point, it's just a tidbit of information they use for identity.

I needed to update the card number myself, but without the account password, I couldn't. I couldn't ask for a new password without knowing the credit card number, and I couldn't use their "Forgot Your Password" feature, because the server that handles that feature was always unavailable, or I was scolded for creating too many reminders. (I never succeeded in creating any.) I thought I remembered my password, but it wasn't working, so I took another look in the filing cabinet. Sure enough, right there in a folder labeled "ISPs" was my original CompuServe welcome letter with the password on it! Glory be. I was off by one character. The password was actually two words, and I had remembered the two words with a hyphen between them instead of a space. (Who puts a space in their password, for crying out loud.) Oh, well. So I was off to update my credit card number.

Now I was finally able to log in and began searching for my account settings. I immediately hit a roadblock. Every link I clicked on threw up an error. For example, I tried a link that ended in go.asp?CIS:BILLING. It looked to me like a simple ASP page (Microsoft Active Server Page) with the parameter "CIS:BILLING." I didn't think that was too unusual, yet Internet Explorer didn't know what to do with it. Huh? It was claiming that this ASP page request was for a MIME type of "application/x-gocserve." What the heck is that??? I found out later that what the CompuServe web page was looking for was something called GOCSERVE.EXE, which is some kind of helper application in a Windows installation of Compuserve that knows just what to do with "CIS:BILLING." I'd like to point out here that millions of web sites handle secure sessions without extra helper applications. Anyway since I couldn't use the web interface I poked around in the CompuServe software and found something that looked promising. It turned out that you don't use a web browser at all to update your card number, but the good old terminal emulator.

The credit card number they had on file was indeed the original number I opened the account with eight years ago, so I updated it to the current number. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but at this point, I was starting to wonder why the last representative denied this was the correct number. Are they instructed to stonewall people trying to cancel? It wouldn't surprise me. I mean, he just plain lied to me. I also noticed that even though I selected the menu option to cancel an account, the representative I reached didn't seem to be aware of that. It made me wonder whether people who choose that option are merely shuffled into the longest phone queue. Hmm.

Confident of my information, I called CompuServe back (hold times were just under 30 minutes for both calls this evening) and tried canceling again. I had to endure a couple of sales pitches, but guess what? The representative never asked me for my credit card number!!! If that had happened on the first call, you wouldn't be reading any of this (don't you wish that's how it had happened?). :-) Now it remains to be seen whether they actually cancel the account as I requested and how long it actually takes (they said 72 hours). All this and Daylight Savings, too!

Thursday, October 24, 2002

My CompuServe saga continues [see October 23, 2002 below]. I went online again booted into Mac OS 9 with the CompuServe software and my current browser, Mozilla 1.1. I got an error that my browser doesn't support cookies:

Generic error...
This area is not available at this time.
Please try again later.
If the problem persists, please contact CompuServe Customer Service at keyword HELP for assistance.
We apologize for the inconvenience.

It's comical that they suggest you contact Customer Service online when you can't even log in! Don't their customers deserve something better than a "generic error"? Nah...

Even though Mozilla supports cookies, I thought I would try another browser, Internet Explorer, version 5.1.6. That got me farther, but I wasn't able to log on. Since I couldn't request a password reminder, I called Customer Service for a new password, but they couldn't verify me because of the incorrect credit card number. I was helpfully transferred to the billing department, languished in limbo for a few minutes, and was summarily disconnected. I don't get no respect from CompuServe, and, I dare say, neither will you.

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Today I tried to cancel my Compuserve account. I stopped using it a long time ago, and by my estimation haven't even connected in about three years. At one time (looooong ago), Compuserve was the place to be if you were interested in computers and other technical topics. That's why I joined in the first place. Before the Web took off, the few national online services that existed were exclusive, private networks, so if there was a forum you wanted to participate in on Compuserve, you needed a Compuserve account and had to dial in to their network. Despite the quality of the community, the message boards, and other content, I was always amazed at how crude Compuserve's interface was. It seemed like nothing more than a glorified BBS (bulletin board system) and was incredibly clunky and slow. Since I came online near the end of the BBS era, I never had to endure the character-based BBS style of networking. Eventually AOL bought Compuserve and marketed it as a low-cost ISP. This just made Compuserve seem even more lame. AOL was already the nadir of ISPs, but here was an ISP that was, at best, a second-rate AOL! But I digress.

Each month I've been throwing away $9.95, so it was time to get out. It was easy to navigate their phone system--there is even a choice for cancelling an account, but when I reached a representative, I had to endure a pitch to upgrade to Compuserve 2000 (I was a "Classic" subscriber.) After I made it clear that I still wanted to cancel, I wasn't able to because the credit card number they have on file is not the same as the number of the card from which they automatically deduct each month's charges. I don't know why that would be, but whatever. They suggested I go online to update my account with the correct number and call back later.

I fired up the Compuserve software, which these days simply launches a web browser! I wasn't able to log in because I had forgotten my password. I clicked the link "Forgot Your Password?" which is supposed to send the password to your email address. That would be fine, except that the page I got back said nothing about my password, but scolded me for creating "too many reminders," whatever they are. Compuserve is still as lame as ever. I pity the poor people who have to endure this slow, buggy service.

Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Big day for me. Our Conifer Quarterly (the house organ of The Conifer Society) arrived today. The editor had used some of the pictures I had taken to illustrate an article about the annual meeting. I was surprised (and pleased) at how many she used, including some color slides on the inside and outside back cover. Wow. My first published photos! I was beaming.

 

I heard part of an interview on Fresh Air with bassist Ron Carter. Terry asked about Ron's function in the Miles Davis quintet (one of my favorite bands of all time) where he held down the bass chair in a rhythm section that included Herbie Hancock on piano and Tony Williams on drums. The quintet broke new ground under Miles' leadership in terms of the freedom each of the players enjoyed. Terry wondered how Ron felt about that freedom and how much freedom he felt he had in that context. Ron felt that his function was to anchor the structure and provide the foundation for the others' freewheeling improvisation. I think this crystallizes just what I like so much about this quintet. As free-floating as everything is with everyone trying to subvert the form, the structure is never abandoned. In other words, the players temper their freedom with discipline. The tension created by stretching the boundaries of the form right to the breaking point--but no farther--is what makes their music so daring and exciting.

Sunday, October 6, 2002

We received our copy of OS X Jaguar Update (Family Pack) last week, and I installed it today. The installation went smoothly until the very end. When I restarted, I was treated to a blank screen. My PowerBook would not boot into the updated OS X partition. To make a long story short, I zapped the PRAM, booted into OS 9 and switched to the OS X partition. All was well after that. Jaguar fixed most of my issues: for example, my custom display profile is now honored, and keyboard navigation in Open dialogs works correctly. But the biggest problem I was having--the miserable performance of the Finder--is vastly improved. OS 9 is still way faster, of course, but finally I don't find myself longing for OS 9. You did such a good job, Steve, that now I'll never buy a new Mac. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!!! Just kidding.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

I went to Macworld New York today with Anne. Times are tough at work, so I had to pay for this trip myself. We wanted to take the train, but the cost was prohibitive, so we decided to drive. Not only was driving a much less expensive option, but we managed to avoid both rush hours and encountered only light traffic (for New York). I had a notion to stop at B&H (a very large photo retailer), but the store was closed today for Tishe B'av. I'm sure that was for the best. We had lunch at the same restaurant as last year, O'Farrell's, an Irish pub on Tenth Avenue near 33th Street. The Javits Center web site features a list of restaurants, but most of them are nowhere near the Center. It's either O'Farrell's or McDonalds, which I believe also serves authentic Irish cuisine. I could be wrong about that. I've never been to Ireland, and I'm only half Irish.

The show wasn't as interesting as last year, because Apple introduced only two new products: the 20-gig iPod and the 17-inch iMac. On the software side, Jaguar looked very exciting. I was hoping to get special show pricing on some software I was upgrading for OS X, but CodeWarrior was one of the few applications that wasn't for sale either at the Metroworks booth or Dev Depot. I almost met Adam Engst of TidBITS fame (he was at the show from 3:00 to 4:00 promoting his Visual QuickStart Guide to iPhoto), but got tired of waiting in line. As we were leaving, I spotted someone carrying a Bessa R2 and stopped him to ask how he liked it. It's a very nice camera.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

SEPTA sucks. Ah. I feel better now.

 

I watched Steve Jobs' keynote address from Macworld New York via QuickTime. Most of the news had been leaked already and there were no big surprises. Steve spent most of the time talking about the next version of OS X (10.2 called Jaguar) and other software technologies. I find it ironic that Jaguar will probably work against me getting a new Mac (my PowerBook is about four years old). I've been running OS X for a while and only have one major complaint: the performance of the Finder. Jaguar promises to speed up the Finder significantly, removing about the only reason for me to get a new Mac. I wonder how many other people will postpone upgrading their marginal hardware once they try Jaguar on it.

For amusing coverage of the keynote, visit Crazy Apple Rumors. It's good to have a sense of humor about all this (especially if you own any of Apple's stock). They're just computers for crying out loud.

Monday, July 1, 2002

I reached a milestone today in my PAW (Picture-A-Week) project: 26 pictures. Halfway there. Check out the latest pictures.

I've been craving a Leica M rangefinder since I first found out what they were a couple of years ago. Because these cameras are very expensive even bought used, I had given up hope of ever having one. Today my fiancée, Anne, surprised me (that's an understatement!) with an M4 (built in 1967) and a Summicron-M 50mm f/2 lens! All I can say (besides that Anne is the most wonderful woman in the world) is: "I'm not worthy."

Friday, June 21, 2002

John Scofield at the Keswick Theater. This was my first time hearing him live, and I wasn't disappointed. He is even more spontaneous and energetic live. We sat close (row DD, which is about eight rows back), but off to one side right in front of a speaker stack. It was pretty loud. Except for a little muddy bass, the house mix was virtually flawless: well-balanced and detailed. I don't think I've ever heard drums so well-amplified.

He played tunes from his latest release, Überjam, as well as a few new tunes. While John Scofield is no stranger to electric effects, Überjam is unusually cluttered with loops and samples, which I don't care for in this context. I don't think the sample aesthetic is compatible with free-wheeling blowing. In the live show, this becomes even more of a problem. In the looser format of live performance, it is very difficult to integrate the samples into the flow. It's just too hard to control the volume and the rhythm with any precision, and it hampers spontaneity. I didn't think the effects were very well integrated into the live show. It seems odd with such a fine band that there'd be so much gratuitous knob twiddling.

The opening act, Charlie Hunter, was very entertaining. He was a good fit for this audience, who gave him a standing ovation. Charlie is a very self-effacing band leader who seems to prefer showcasing his talented soloists rather than hogging the spotlight.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Tonight we went to Chanticleer for a garden tour entitled "Ferns for Everywhere." I'm crazy about ferns. We saw a large number of fine specimens (26 varieties in all) in a variety of natural settngs. I still can't keep the different kinds of leaves (oops, "blades") straight. Let's see... is this one bipinnate or tripinnate?

 

Friday, June 16, 2002

Just returned from a wonderful trip to Atlanta to attend the Conifer Society's annual conference. I don't think I've ever shot so much film (seven rolls in two days) with so little to show for it. Oh, well. But I had a great time!

 

Friday, June 7, 2002

Remember Mozilla from yesterday? It's history! Already. I opened it this morning to check some local pages on my laptop. No, it didn't crash, but I couldn't open any pages. I mean I couldn't get the Open command to work! Tried selecting from the menu, using the keyboard shortcut, but nothing happens (at least it didn't crash). This making-the-menus-work and opening files stuff is pretty basic, and when software can't get this right, I can't think of any reason to put up with it. I've never had this kind of problem with even the humblest of freeware programs. It's not like it's so great, considering how much memory it uses and that it isn't any faster than Internet Explorer. Life's too short. Out it goes.

Thursday, June 6, 2002

The siren call of Mozilla-a-a-a-a-ah (can't you just hear it?) was too strong for me, so I downloaded and installed it today (the Classic version). I never downloaded any of the nightly builds as Mozilla crawled towards its release date (gee, it only took four years!).

For one thing, the link on mozilla.org's /releases page was wrong. The path was right, but the file name was wrong. It should have been mozilla-mac-10-full-instal.bin, but instead was mozilla-mac-10-full.bin. Whatever. I got it.

Mozilla's interface looks a lot like good ole Netscape, and I do mean ole. The default chrome hasn't been updated at all. But who cares what it looks as long as it works, right? It's not gigantic on disk, but it uses a whopping 29 megs of memory (compare to Internet Explorer 5.1 which uses less than half that). I checked out the Help which appeared in a crippled kind of browser window that behaved like a dialog box--you couldn't open any other pages as long as the Help browser was open. Why should it be modal? In addition, the window has no "Up" scroll arrow. I shouldn't be so hard on them; they only had four years. I think this might be because Mozilla is so platform-agnostic that it doesn't get things right on any platform. For all I know, there's no Down scroll arrow on Windows either.

My chief beef with Internet Explorer was how sluggish it was at multitasking. It wouldn't let you do much of anything while a page was loading and rendering. Mozilla excels in this area, and I found it snappy and responsive at all times. My favorite feature in IE was the font size controls that allowed me to make all those web sites meant for PC users readable on my Mac, even sites with font sizes coded in pixels. Mozilla has no such thing.

Despite its hefty memory requirements, I decided I'd use Mozilla for a while and so added it to the AppleScript I run that launches all my applications in the morning. It didn't like that at all. It kept locking up my machine. I finally gave up on that. These ported applications are such a pain. If you launch it by itself, it seems rock solid. Only time will tell. Now that I'm flirting with new browsers, I think I'll give iCab a try next.

Wednesday, June 5, 2002

Big day (for Mac users). Mac OS 10.1.5 was released. Eudora 5.1.1 was released earlier in the week, the first version for OS X. And something I thought I'd never see in my lifetime: Mozilla 1.0. The reason, as I learned from Joel Spolsky, was never rewrite something from scratch. I guess they really needed to do it, and I'm glad they've reached this milestone.

After this flurry of releases, it's time once again for me to consider moving to X. What's holding me back?

Last night I thought I saw the first lightning bug (firefly) of the summer. I must have been right, because tonight I saw many.

I've added three new pictures to my PAW, and just starting my second quarter. I'm still five weeks behind, however.

May 27, 2002

A good portion of the Memorial Day weekend was spent working in the yard. Anne got a tremendous amount of back-breaking weed-pulling work finished as well as planting a Deodar Cedar she acquired from Shiloh Nursery in York. By contrast, I merely cut the grass. I did, however, succeed in stripping sod from half of "my" garden (about 50 square feet). I was delighted to find that this area does not have the thick layer of gravel that plagues virtually every spot in our yard.

I reorganized the computer-related content over the weekend. The old headings "Software" and "Development" were confusing (even to me) and didn't reflect the content of the pages in those sections, so I've reorganized those sections under the heading "Computers."

Although I've had the domain homegrownsystems.com for a couple of years, it's only been in the last few months that there has been any content. I took at look at my web server's log file last week and discovered a couple of interesting things. One is how many attacks the site receives--an average of two probes a day each of which involves a series of ten or so attempts. All the page requests are for files that would only be present on a web server running Microsoft's Internet Information Server. The attackers are obviously selectively probing weaknesses that are present only in IIS. I don't know whether this is because Microsoft's security is the worst of any web server or because the vulnerabilities are so well-known. Both, I'm sure.

The other thing I've noticed is that I am actually getting a few hits. Admittedly, there is a link to my Picture-A-Week page on a couple of photographers' sites who track PAW projects, so I imagine there is traffic coming from there (I don't have access to the http referrer log to know for sure). It is gratifying to receive some attention, but it's made me self-conscious about the condition of some of the site's sections. Some areas are little more than skeletons with content that sometimes just trails off or contains cryptic notes to myself. It's just more convenient for me to bulk upload pages even if they're a trifle messy.

I haven't updated my PAW since the end of March. I have chosen the pictures to carry me through the end of May, but it will probably be a couple weeks before I get them scanned and posted. Excuses, excuses.

May 20, 2002

I developed my first roll of Delta 3200 tonight using Xtol 1:1 with a time of 12 minutes at 75 degrees. I couldn't find much in the way of firm times for this film, but I decided on this time (which, if anything, is on the short side) since I exposed the film at an ISO of 1200 in mostly contrasty light. It's hard for me to tell how things turned out just by looking at the negatives with a loupe, but at least the negatives don't seem underdeveloped. The grain of this film is quite prominent, but has a very pleasing "look" to it.

May 17-19, 2002

I had a job in Williamsburg, so we made a weekend of it. Anne had last been to Williamsburg about ten years ago; I had never been there. About the only connection I had with the place was that father of an old classmate of mine (William Reamer of Drummer's Service), had made beautifully-crafted reproduction rope-tensioned drums for the fife and drum corps there.

Besides all the sights one might expect to see in a recreation of Colonial America, there were a number of surprises. (It's funny what you end up noticing.) For one thing, I was simply overwhelmed by the number of "waffle and pancake" houses, as common a sight here as a Starbucks in Portland (i.e., there's one on every corner). Perhaps that's how we won the war: The troops wintering at Valley Forge had no shoes, but the pancakes and waffles sustained them. By the way, there weren't any such restaurants in Colonial Williamsburg itself. The village has nothing I could detect that detracts from its historical accuracy.

We make the greatest waffles in the world right at home, so we weren't tempted to try these Colonial versions, but I did have some pancakes. Eh. We visited two different "houses," having risen too late to partake of the complementary Continental breakfast (It's odd that they have the nerve to call it that here. Must be Tory sympathizers.) Neither house thrilled, although I had my first grits in a long time. They were pretty good. Speaking of waffle houses, we made a point of eating at Waffle Houses on both legs of the trip. Anne was a very good sport about this, humoring my craving for greasy grilled bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwiches. The Waffle House chain has finally begun adding links progressively eastward and northward, so that now the closest restaurant is only an hour and a half away. (There are now Waffle Houses at Exits 80, 100, and 109 along I-95 in Maryland and Delaware.) I used to look forward to Southern trips for the opportunity of visiting a Waffle House. Perhaps now familiarity will breed contempt. We'll see.

Colonial Williamsburg's gardens all seemed to be dominated by an abundance of foxgloves, which were in peak bloom. Many of the houses featured small vegetable patches in the back yard as well as the odd sheep. Another thing that struck me was how tame the squirrels were. Not surprising, I suppose.

The weather was decidedly cool for this time of year and latitude. In fact, when we returned home, the local temperature was at a record low (43 degrees).

We derived much pleasure from just walking around and soaking up the sights, which can be had for free, but to get the most out of your trip, I would recommend getting a pass ($33 for the day), which entitles you to join all the informative tours and see the insides of these historic buildings.

May 16, 2002

Woo-hoo! Electric cars! This morning I spotted some commotion around some tents at the corner of 16th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. One of the attractions was the "EV-Sport" electric car. (Later I checked out the web site at PRO-ZEV.com and learned the car was built locally. "ZEV" stands for Zero Emission Vehicle.) The car features a retro-looking "boattail" roadster body complete with wire wheels. There were only a few clues that this was an electric car. There were electric motors poking discreetly out of the hood, and a panel of solar cells mounted on the "boot," but other than that it looked more like an old MG. I was too busy taking pictures and worrying about missing my train to stop and talk to the owner, who was pretty busy with inquiries anyway. While taking pictures of the front of the car, I realized I was clearly reflected in the chrome teardrop headlights, so I refocused and took a self-portrait.

The EV-Sport is almost as cool as Green Mountain Energy's giant windmills in western Pennsylvania.

New navigation is in place (see About This Site) and switched the gray scheme to earth tones.

May 8, 2002

Yow! I happened to search for my name using Google (I was not ego-surfing! I had my reasons. :-) ) and discovered that one of my pages was ranked sixth out of over 9,000 hits! Was I ever surprised. Surprised because no one knows about this site (except for literally about two people), or so I thought. Then I remembered that a couple of photographers have listed me (at my request, actually) on their list of PAW participants. That explains how Google found me, but it doesn't explain why the page ranked so high. Now that I have a responsibility to Tony Greens everywhere, I'd better clean up the place a little. There are loose pixels lying around everywhere.

Then I searched for the two words in Anne's company name, "context" and "communications," both fairly common words. There were 1,510,000 hits. That's a lotta hits. But guess what? One of Anne's pages was THIRD!!! How does she do it???

One thing's for sure. Google's search algorithms sure recognize quality when they see it. You can't argue with that.

May 1, 2002

I developed my first roll of Ilford HP5+ this week and made a contact sheet and one print last night. Maybe I shouldn't have done this with the first roll of a new film, but I rated it at 200 and underdeveloped it (10 minutes instead of 12 in Xtol 1:1 at 68 degrees). Underdeveloping provides a host of benefits, including reducing grain and increasing sharpness, although chiefly it reduces contrast. The penalty (every gain in photography involves a tradeoff) is a loss in speed, hence the need for overexposure. I had been processing Delta 400 this way for some time and was pleased with the results. In fact, the Delta negatives had plenty of contrast (so much so that I wondered if I was accomplishing anything by underdeveloping). Not so the HP5+. Most of the negatives were distinctly "flat." At least I was accomplishing something by underdeveloping! I will definitely rate my next roll at 400 and process "normally." So far I am very pleased with this film. One of the shots taken in very contrasty light looks great, so I think if I have low-contrast lighting and subjects, I should use normal development. Based on this limited experience, I think I prefer the tonality of HP5+ to the other films I have tried (Tri-X, Delta 400, and Neopan 1600).

April 30, 2002

I have updated my PAW, although I am still about a month behind.

April 29, 2002

Yesterday, Anne and I went to Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve for a guided wildflower walk. I thought the talk was very informative. It was interesting that no one else in our group had ever been to Bowman's Hill before. Maybe the members and veterans don't go in for these guided walks. I was surprised and delighted that I actually knew some of the plants we discussed.

The highlight of the tour was finding a mature stand of false hellebore, a plant I like not only because of its attractive, pleated leaves, but because I came to know it through a book by the photographer, John Shaw: John Shaw's Landscape Photography. He used false hellebore to test and calibrate his cameras' meters, in part because the plant's foliage meters as middle gray. Sure enough it does meter exactly middle gray. Unfortunately, a number of the leaves were torn, but I took some pictures anyway, trying to avoid the worst parts.

After arriving home, I did my first serious yard work this year. (Anne has already done quite a bit on her own.) We stripped an area in the backyard of an overgrowth of honeysuckle. We almost finished the job when it started to rain, which was good because I was ready to quit for the day.

I don't much about plants, but I know what I like. Two plants I like are ferns and hostas. Hostas are shade-loving (we have plenty of that in our yard), so for my first project I proposed plating some hosta on the north (short) end of the house.

Also today, Anne moved her blog from blogspot.com to her own domain: greenopportunities.com

April 21, 2002

I added a number of sections and pages to this site, mostly to remind me of the direction I want to go, not because there's any new content--there's almost nothing on those pages at the moment. The new pages are: Macintosh and AppleScript development, Restaurants, Photography Technique and Resources, Literature and Music.

My PAW was up to date as of a month ago, but it hasn't changed since then. I've been shooting, but I'm behind in everything else.

April 10, 2002

I photographed the tree crew Monday for a while before I left for work. I used a Nikon A2 (81A) warming filter, which I bought because I had heard it recommended to restore a natural color balance to subjects illuminated solely by blue sky (as in full shade) or on overcast days. I had taken any number of shots made in full shade that were spoiled by a heavy blue cast. Yesterday was overcast, so I thought I would try it. In this case I think it was a bit too much; flesh tones were unnaturally "warm." I now believe that the diffuse illumination from a light overcast doesn't need any compensation from a warming filter. Live and learn.

April 9, 2002

What's the deal with fast lenses? Do you have one? Do you really need it? Do you ever use it wide open? How often do you use it wide open? (Hey, this is turning into a rant!) I used to think I needed fast lenses, but I've changed my mind.

When I began acquiring prime lens to supplement my original 35-105mm zoom, I steered toward the fastest lens available in that focal length. Beginner though I was, I was still aware that fast lenses weren't necessarily the best lenses, but I needed to use the same lens for both "available darkness" conditions and sunlit landscapes. I thought a fast lens would benefit the former without compromising the latter. I did enough research to satisfy myself that the faster lenses were as sharp as slower ones. So I acquired a 50mm f/1.4 and 35mm f/1.4 (both AIS) with the idea that neither of these lenses made any major optical compromises for their speed. (I wanted an 85mm 1.4, too, but this was simply too expensive. I still don't have an 85mm.) I understood that these lenses might not be stellar performers wide open, but the rest of their range should be fine, and you had f/1.4 if you needed it.

I was wrong about all this.

For one thing, it's my feeling that the 50mm f/1.4 isn't so great even stopped down (although maybe it's just my sample). I became dissatisfied to the point that I now own the much cheaper and lighter f/1.8 (It's AIS, but looks like an E series. Admittedly it's more plastic-y than the f/1.4--you can't have everything.) I'm very pleased with it.

More importantly than the performance of these lenses wide open, I discovered that for my purposes, the widest aperture wasn't really usable (at least handheld). Besides being the least-sharp aperture, the narrow depth of field makes focusing so critical that the inevitable focusing errors just contribute to the softness. I find myself longing for a dream world where I would never need to go wider than about f/4, which is still open enough for a nice selective focus effect, but giving up three whole stops of light isn't helping get the shot when light is dim. Giving up three stops means I would have to rate my 400-speed film at 3200. Not a good idea. Nevertheless, I'll be experimenting with pushing some 400 speed films and trying some faster films to decide what solution I want to use, but I don't think opening up all the way works for me.

I realize that your mileage may vary when using lenses wide open. I've seen wonderful work that was shot wide open at even wider apertures than f/1.4, for example using a Leica Noctilux at f/1.0, so I think the problem is just with me. On the bright side (pun intended), one thing a fast lens does provide is a bright viewfinder image (in an SLR), although I only notice that the image is "dark" when the aperture is smaller than about f/2.8.

April 8, 2002

Today a crew from Brooks Barber Tree Service removed four aged, ailing and ivy-covered trees. The crew did a fine job with the only problem happening when they felled a tree near our vegetable garden. We left some leeks in the ground last fall to fatten up for market. They came through the winter fine, but several were damaged by falling wood. Looking on the bright side, the next crop of leeks we plant should be ready in only one season with all the light they'll have now. The trees are survived by several very large piles of wood chips.

April 4, 2002

I habitually underexpose my black and white negatives. This is surprising because I learned exposure by shooting lots of slide film, which has, basically, almost no room for error. I'm pretty confident figuring out an exposure for most scenes using slide film, so I know my technique and equipment are adequate, but somehow this experience doesn't carry over into black and white. Part of the problem is that I tend to shoot black and white in poorer (dimmer) lighting conditions, and I am overly optimistic about a film's ISO rating as well as the way I meter the scene.

In some recent pictures taken in good light, I've tried placing the scene's values more or less in the center of the film's curve, regardless of where they were in life. For example, for a low-key scene I would "overexpose" and for a high key scene I would "underexpose." The theory I have is that I'm placing the scene's tones on the flattest part of the curve where I should get the best gradation. But I don't have enough experience to know whether this works or not. For my last two rolls I have also rated Ilford Delta 400 at 160 and reduced development time by about 15% (9 minutes in Xtol 1:1). The negatives seem fine, but I haven't printed any yet. We'll see...

What's confusing me is some advice I've read in Anchell & Troop's Film Developing Cookbook. I gather from them that proper exposure of a black-and-white negative is just as critical as it is for slide film. They write:

If there is any secret to obtaining high sharpness and fine grain, it is to ensure that the negative has a low density range. Maximum density should not exceed 0.9 above base+fog for small negatives... [page 3]
With small formats, it is necessary to give the minimum possible exposure that will still record adequate shadow detail. This means the negative needs to be as thin as possible. The thicker the negative, the more grain and the less sharpness when you enlarge. However, the penalty for minimum exposure is slightly poorer shadow gradation in the negative. Special printing techniques like dodging and burning are often the only way to get a thin negative to show shadow gradation as rich as a thick negative. [page 6]
But for conventional films, thin negatives (density range 0.9) will be sharper and less grainy, both objectively via measurement and subjectively. [page 54]

They also refer to the "cardinal rules of minimum exposure and minimum development time" [page 59].

So what does this all mean? I thought a thick negative was a good negative. I have plenty of thin negatives and I don't like them (although mine are a little too thin). I guess I can take them at their word and try to achieve "minimum exposure," but I'm not sure how to meter for this.

April 2, 2002

I am very pleased to report that our current foster cat, Hunter, has been adopted! We will miss him so much!!!

March 23, 2002

Slowly but slowly, I've been workin' on my PAW (Photo-A-Week). Finally, it's sorta kinda basically up to date. Wooooo doggies!

Also in ArchiveThat's right, an archive. Because I never throw anything away.